Saturday, April 17, 2010

Vanishing Point // The State of the Memoir

Just up this weekend is an important inquiry into the state of the memoir via an encounter with Ander Monson's new book Vanishing Point: Not A Memoir.

Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

Over the last 25 years, the memoir — or The Story of My Life, asVivian Gornick calls it — has become one of the major gestures of American writing. In direct opposition to the literal- minded, linear and epistemologically na├»ve nature of many such works, there has emerged in the last dozen years a vital countertradition, what John D’Agata labels the “lyric essay.” It’s a form with ancient roots. Hera­clitus, anyone?

In D’Agata’s words, “what the lyric essay inherits from the public essay is a fact- hungry pursuit of solutions to problems, while from the personal essay what it takes is a wide-eyed dallying in the heat of predicaments. . . . Lyric essays seek answers, yet seldom seem to find them.”

This is an exact and useful description of the work now being done by, among many others, Ander Monson, who in “Vanishing Point” performs the same crucial inversion his fellow travelers do: he turns the banality of nonfiction inside out and thereby makes nonfiction a staging area to investigate claims of fact and truth, an extremely rich theater for exploring the most serious ontological questions.

“The unreality, the misrememberings, the act of telling in starts and stops,” Monson writes, “the pockmarked surface of the I: that’s where all the good stuff is, the fair and foul, that which is rent, that which is whole, that which engages the whole reader. Let us linger there, not rush past it.”

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